Thursday, March 24, 2005

My Little Mutoscope

I found out at BoingBoing that my own town of Durham NC has, at the School of Science and Mathematics, an Exhibit of Optical Toys. It reminded me of a wonderful project I did with my dad when I was a kid: after we saw a mutoscope in a museum, we went home and built our own.

The pictures here are from Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum. The mutoscope was a precurser to the movies. Cards were mounted on belts which were affixed to cylinders which revolved - at first, they were hand cranked, and later, thay had motors.

By the way, even back then soft porn was a very profitable genre for the moving picture people - if you search for "mutoscope" you'll find a lot of girlie cards...

The mutoscope innards you see here are from a much more commercial model than the one we saw but it gives you an idea.

The one at the museum exhibit, after which we modeled our home-made version, had a cylinder about eight inches in diameter, mounted vertically, with lots and lots of little cards attached to a belt attached to the cylinder so the cards bristled like a Rolodex. (Each card progresses the visual story.)

My dad showed me how to cut up a cookie tin with snips to make the cylinder. We rooted around in the basement to find scraps of every whatever to put the rest of the thing together. Some soldering was involved, which I thought was really really cool.

Some mutoscopes are hand-cranked but my dad helped me rig up a motor so mine would grind around on its own. He had a degree in mechanical and electrical engineering from MIT so he was very well qualified to help out. My dad was not much of a talker or a hugger, so the projects we did together are my very best memories of him.

The project was totally fun though it took a really, really long time to draw all those cards and attach them to the belt. And they fell off fairly frequently.

I was still a home-made-animation fan later in life: for a couple years I mass-produced greeting-card flipbooks and sold them at fairs.

I suppose if I were a kid these days, I would be doing flash animation like my nephew Nicholas. It's not really the same thing, though.

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At 12:27 PM, Blogger Badaunt said...

Ooh! When I was a kid Dad took us to a museum where they had one of those, in working order. We had to put money in to look, and the kids went first. We were FASCINATED by the woman taking off her clothes, and Dad was mortified when he had his turn and found out what we'd been looking at!

At 12:50 AM, Anonymous ilona said...

Interesting memory, and the pic of your '65 version is nicely drawn.

I really was interested in commenting on your "is" post, but you have the comments turned off, another interesting turn considering the content....makes me go hmmmm.

At 2:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi i hope you get email alerts for replys to old posts. i'm trying to make a mutoscope of my own and i'm wondering how did you afix the paper to the tin?

-patrick thomas glass

At 7:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey! I’m also trying to create my own mutoscope and am tossing up all kinds of designs. the two big questions being; how did you secure the stills to the tin (as above)and, how clear/effective was the animation considering there is nothing to spring the images completely upright? Does it work steadily each time?

At 4:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

great post! your dad sounds like a cool dude. am also trying to make a mutoscope, like a couple others who have posted.

At 4:54 PM, Blogger Claire Lawrence said...

I, too, am attempting to create my own mutoscope. So I was wondering the same things, how do you attach the pictures to the tin, and how do you look at them? I get the general concept, but how, when you crank it, do the individual images stick up? And help would be loved.


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